#WearExperimenting was an ambitious participatory project devised by Jo Howell and commissioned by The Cultural Spring and NEPN in 2018.
The project engaged over 1200 people in Sunderland in a series of experiments intended to explore the cross-currents of creativity shared by photography and science. Experiments asked questions relating to the natural and physical environment; social, domestic and work life and health of residents using traditional processes including cyanotypes, pinhole and photograms to share experiences of life in the city.
In an age where ‘everyone’s a photographer’, and photography is a uniquely accessible (and instantaneous) medium, the project invited the public to think about how we make and share images, to ask questions about how we represent ourselves and imagine our futures.
Jo Howell offered workshops in the wards of Pallion, Millfield and Hendon and there were also many opportunities to encounter the project through a pop-up roving darkroom in community and social green spaces over June – October 2018.
‘My interest lies in how we express our collective and individual human experience. There are many cultural aspects that make up our common assumptions and opinions. By working directly with people to create artworks I am aiming to create art that challenges my own preconceptions and those of others.
Sunderland is my home town, and a perfect example of a City that is viewed by outsiders as many unfavourable things. It is viewed as an impoverished area, as an area of high unemployment, an area with poor health, and many more things that have been said about our City in the media. Some of these issues are based on statistics and information collected by the government. I don’t see my lived experiences as being reflected wholly by these statistics. I find these ideas reductive, in the sense that it reduces our agency in in the broader societal context. That we are maligned by presumption.
As an insider I want us all to really explore these assumptions about our area using photography in its many different forms. Like a science experiment we will create photographs following a systematic method. When given the same instructions or parameters for investigation, what will happen? Will we create something totally unexpected? Will we create very similar images, or will there be deviations throughout due to how each participant interprets the instructions? Will this project help us to understand our place in the world, or perhaps help us to redefine it?’
Jo Howell, 2018.
The Cultural Spring is the Sunderland and South Tyneside ‘Creative People and Places’ programme, funded by Arts Council England to raise participation and engagement in the arts amongst local communities.
The commission was supported by Arts Council England using public funding from the National Lottery and was part of the NEPN project Observe Experiment Archive.